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The Rattrap - Summary

Last updated date: 29th May 2024
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About the Rattrap

The Rattrap is a short story written by Selma Lagerlöf about a man who lives a downtrodden life as a vagabond and poor rattrap seller. He looks at the world through spectacles of cynicism and misery because of the situation in which he finds himself. He thinks of the world as a rat trap, where we are pulled in by the rat trap of materialistic things. In the story, he resorts to petty thievery and selling rat traps to sustain himself. However, this is not enough, as he still leads an impoverished life. 

In summary of The Rattrap, it is the story of a man who realizes that true happiness is found from the inside, through love, respect and appreciation, and not from materialistic things.


The Rattrap Summary Class 12

The Rattrap class 12 English lesson begins by introducing the rattrap seller who wanders, collecting junk from here and there to put together and turn into functional rat traps. One day, a stranger whose cottage door he knocks on allows him to stay the night. The man served the rat trap seller porridge with a pipe of tobacco, and they played games. The host explained that he worked at an ironworks factory earlier, but now his only source of income was his cow. He showed his guest the thirty kronor he had earned the previous month that he hung in a pouch by the window of his cottage.

The rat trap seller goes about his way when his host leaves in the morning to tend to his cow. However, the rat trap seller returns to steal the money in the pouch by breaking the window a little while later. After this, he stumbles through the forest, avoiding the highway to be on the safe side, all the while thinking about how he allowed himself to fall into the world’s rat trap of materialistic things like money (the thirty kronor he stole). 

He eventually lies down on the ground, which was extremely cold because the story is set in late December. On top of this, his clothes were mostly rags, so it was even colder for him. However, as he laid his head down, he heard the sound of the iron mill nearby and followed it. When he arrived, people were sitting by the warmth of the furnace. No one bothered to object to his being there, so he sat with them.

The owner of the mill came by in the meantime to do his evening rounds, and upon seeing the tramp, he mistook him for an old comrade, Nils Olof. The tramp had a beard and scraggly hair, so it was easy to mistake him for other people. The tramp did not deny this, thinking he would get some more money if he went with it. However, when the owner invited him to the manor, he declined, out of what the owner thought was an embarrassment. Soon after, the owner’s daughter came to attempt to bring the tramp to the house in the name of Christmas Eve, and he had to oblige.

At the manor, the rat trap seller was given a bath, a haircut, a shave and fresh clothes in the hope that his embarrassment coming from his condition would also wash off with his filth. However, when he went into the dining room, the ironmaster immediately realized that the tramp was not Nils Olof! He was furious and asked the man to leave immediately lest he calls the sheriff. The tramp explained his theory about the world being a rat trap, so he was excused. The daughter had her father allow him to stay, and the man looked like he needed a hearty meal and some sleep.

At the Christmas mass, while the tramp still slept, the family found out about the stolen money. On returning to the manor, the rat trap seller had already gone on his way. However, he did leave behind a Christmas present for the daughter - the thirty kronor to return to the man in the cottage by the roadside, as written by him in a letter with it; Because he was treated with respect, he returned the respect.


Moral of the Story

In the summary of The Rattrap, we can understand that when one is given the respect they deserve, they live up to it, too. It is love, compassion, understanding and respect that makes life worth living, and not materialistic things such as riches, fame and objects.

The Rattrap was originally published in the Swedish newspaper Göteborgsposten on 8 August 1887. It was then republished in several other periodicals in different language editions. The story was the most successful of all the stories she wrote during her career. Selma Lagerlöf herself called The Rattrap her best work, even though it is the most pessimistic of all her works. This story has often been described as "one of the best examples of Swedish 19th-century literature." It has also been compared to the French fable L'Homme aux petits pieds, written by Aesop, which concerns a man who spends his life making traps for rats and is considered by some to be the best story ever written.

The story deals with the social issue of poverty, through the character's life, as he lives a humble life with no shelter or warm clothes, but he struggles to keep himself alive. He only survives because he keeps selling rat traps to support himself.

The characters that Lagerlöf used for her story are real-life people. The first character, Isak Skottsberg, is the real Selma Lagerlöf's husband, whom she gave the last name "Lagerlöf". The last character, Fredrik Törne, is a real human, however, the name is not the same because it was an error in the first edition.  The two real people, both men, also have their names translated from Swedish to English. The first one is called Isak Skottsberg and the other one is Fredrik Törne.


Plot Summary

Isak Skottsberg lives in a small cabin in the woods near his home, only a hundred yards from a farmstead. He lives alone with the one person he loves, his wife Selma, but she is not his only companion; he also likes to spend time with a young man, the town drunk. 

During this time, he gets involved in many problems. The first one is his lack of money; he has very few, so he sells rodent traps to people in the countryside and the town. The last thing he wants is to bring misery to Selma's eyes, but this is not his only issue.

He has a difficult childhood, and he suffers because of this, and not because of a problem with his father, who died during his youth.  He doesn't have a mother either, who died while he was in his early years. 

Then, when his older brother, Törne, goes to his father's grave, he feels deeply unhappy and wishes to find the reason. Isak's best friend is the man who takes care of the farm, his friend Nils. Isak does what he can to help Nils when he has problems.


About the Author

Selma Lagerlof (1858 - 1941), a Swede and Nobel Prize winner for Literature, was born in Söderköping, Sweden. At the age of 15, she wrote her first story, Sången om Frälsaren, which won her the Swedish Literature Prize. She was married to a man she did not love, and they had three daughters. While she was pregnant with her third daughter, she began writing a novel, Bara vara fåglar, but her family forced her to give it up, stating that it was unhygienic. She took their advice and completed a novel called The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, which won the Nobel Prize in 1909.


About the Book

The story starts in 16th century Sweden, where two different worlds of people reside. The people in one world are rich and live in large castles and palaces. The people in the other world live in small wooden cabins, with nothing more than a stone fireplace to cook in. They are poor and do not know the difference between a rich man and a beggar. One day, a stranger from the first world visits the second world and asks the people if they would like to join his world. He tells them that they can help him, but the conditions are, they will have to give up everything they have and become his servants. The people refuse. So he decides to leave and goes home, but he will come back to visit again. He does, but this time the people have no choice but to follow him. So the two worlds are combined into one. The story goes on from there, and in the end, a big festival is arranged.


About the Illustrations

Many of the illustrations were taken from a series of postcards that had been printed in Sweden. Some of the art from these cards can be seen in the book. The series has art from 1891 to 1899 and these drawings were printed in a magazine called Välkommen. A second series that was printed in 1899 can also be found in the book. These artworks, however, are from a different magazine called Vem Kvitt Till Mig. This series is much more artistic than the earlier one.


About the Author and the Publisher

Nils Holgersson was the first to write books in Swedish. He was the creator of the modern day Swedish children’s literature. His books are still read today by many children and adults. The book illustrated by Anders Zorn is from the series of postcards that was printed in Sweden and the illustrations from these postcards can also be seen in the book. This series was illustrated by Anders Zorn. This series has over 100 illustrations, but there are also many blank pages which were used to hold the postcards. This book, however, is about the events that occur between the postcards that were illustrated. It is about the character and how he is trying to go home.

What does the Story Conveys Students?

This story is especially important for young readers dealing with life's challenges. It encourages them to:

  • Question their own negative thoughts.

  • Realise the impact of small acts of kindness.

  • Value connections with others.

  • Believe in the possibility of change.

  • Understand that kindness can bring light even in tough times.


"The Rattrap" is not just another school story; it's a glimpse into human experiences, a reminder that hope can emerge even in tough situations. So, keep reading, and you might discover ways to break free from your own problems and step into a brighter future.

FAQs on The Rattrap - Summary

1. Why is the title of the short story ‘The Rattrap’?

The story ‘The Rattrap’ is about a tramp who sells rat traps, which he makes with junk he finds, for a living, and he lives in so much impoverishment that his worldview has become cynical, too. The protagonist, through his lens of cynicism, looks at the world as a rat trap, where materialistic things pull us into it and trap us. The story describes his own experience getting pulled into the rat trap of life, and also about how he got out of it, thus the name of the short story is entitled ‘The Rattrap.’

2. What is the moral of the story ‘The Rattrap’?

The Rattrap summary in a few words is the story of a rat trap seller who survives through petty thieveries, such as stealing the hard-earned thirty kronor of the man who sheltered him for a night and by selling rat traps to people. Towards the end of the story, the writer shows a change in the rat trap summary seller’s morality, as a result of being treated with respect. The moral of The Rattrap class 12 is that it is important to show others love, kindness and respect because it changes their lives in ways we cannot imagine.

3.  Where can I find the summary of The Rattrap summary class 12 english?

The Rattrap is a short story written by Selma Lagerlöf about a man who lives a downtrodden life as a vagabond and poor rattrap seller. In the story, he resorts to petty thievery and selling rat traps to sustain himself. At Vedantu, we provide students with a summary of the voice of the rain which would help them to revise.

4. Where can I find the solutions to this chapter?

By the chapter, Rattrap we can understand that when one is given the respect they deserve, they live up to it, too. It is love, compassion, understanding and respect that makes life worth living, and not materialistic things such as riches, fame and objects. Vedantu provides the necessary questions and answers along with a summary.

5. How to write a summary?

Summary is a short essay that covers the entire meaning of prose or poem in a crisp manner. It involves writing with a complete understanding of the poem covering the major topics and giving the gist of the entire chapter in less than 100 words. Ensure to write the important events that happen in the story and also to end it completely in the word limit.

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